I'm coming to you from the annual Ginghamsburg Change Conference. Ginghamsburg [United Methodist] Church
is a congregation of thousands in the northern suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. Ginghamsburg is known as one of the most influential churches in the country. While they have been especially innovative in their use of media, their mission work has been lauded by two U.S. presidents (Clinton and the first Bush). The congregation holds several conferences to show other church leaders what Ginghamsburg has done right.
I have to admit that, upon arriving, my first impressions of Ginghamsburg [United Methodist] Church were not favorable. The congregation's signage in no way indicated that they were United Methodist (I have yet to see a cross-and-flame anywhere); and, in my opinion, their bookstore has too much Rick Warren and Joel Osteen and not enough material on biblical scholarship and theology. Since books and The United Methodist Church are two of the things I am most passionate about, I came into the conference cynical and scoffing.
However, after listening to Pastor Mike Slaughter's keynote talk and after being immersed in The Avenue
(Ginghamsburg's youth ministry), I've been converted. The people of Ginghamsburg are doing a lot of good things (one of which is the Sudan Project
), and an unusually large percentage of the church's members are deeply invested in the congregation's ministries.
Ginghamsburg stresses that church members are not customers; churches do not exist to entertain or to serve their members. Rather, churches exist to equip their members to do ministry. Ginghamsburg abhors the word "volunteer" because it allows the volunteer to minister on his or her own terms. Instead they use the language of "servant leaders" and "unpaid servants." Ministry, in other words, is not something we do at our convenience. This model of demanding more from members has enabled the people of Ginghamsburg to better use their gifts, talents, ideas, and opportunities in service of God and God's children.
In general, Pastor Slaughter detests boards and committees in the local church. Ginghamsburg, as a result, has only one board or committee (its administrative council). This is remarkable for a United Methodist Congregation. Anyway, when the administrative board meets, they have a rule: "You can't vote 'no' if it's something that Jesus would do." In my mind this is a true expression of faith.
I still have reservations about Ginghamsburg, but I recognize now that being a mega church does not render a congregation superficial or materialistic; some churches are large because they have excellent ministries and because they engage their members in service.